Author: Bob Gruen
Title: “New York Dolls: Photographs”
Publisher: Abrams Books
Release Date: 9/1/2008
Genre: Rock History
Photographer Bob Gruen lines out in his forward to the book “New York Dolls: Photographs” that in his life he has always found that one event leads to another and after a happenstance meeting with a manager friend of John Lennon, he caught another of this persons bands The New York Dolls at the Mercer Arts Center. The rest is as you say – history and since that time, the early happenings of the band and the name Bob Gruen were almost one in the same. The New York Dolls as a band were formed around 1971 and while only active with the members presented in this book for a couple of years, their impact and influence is still felt to this very day. They are cited as being founders of the Glam Rock movement by instilling fashion with high energy Rock and Roll shows and being instrumental in New York City’s becoming the music hot spot that it would become at this time. There are some who line out The Dolls being founders of Punk in some sense as well, and while most will agree that The Ramones hold this honor, it is true that The New York Dolls had some hand in this as well. If you are someone who needed an introduction to the members that we are focusing on, then let me line them out with David Johansen (vocals), Arthur “Killer” Kane (bass), Sylvain Sylvain and Johnny Thunders (guitarists) and Jerry Nolan (drums).
The book is not really broken up into chapters per se and is delivered in a very comfortable manner by starting us off with words by the photographer himself which are followed by an introduction by Lenny Kaye which leads us into the first of his two interviews. The musician/writer who many know as a member of Patti Smith’s band conducts two great chats with singer David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain who are the only living members of the band that we see in this book. The text itself is very interesting as it brings the readers back into the earlier history of the band and with the amazing photos by Gruen we get to feel as though we ourselves were behind the lens. Music historians know that Gruen was with the band A LOT during this time period and thanks to the photos that he includes we get a good idea of just how much this actually meant. There are shots from live shows and rehearsals or just wandering the city streets, filming videos or even just looking at magazines. There are even some of the band simply relaxing with friends and ardent female admirers. There are a ton of black and white photos which offer a great perspective but I leaned to the color images since the band had such flair in their manner of dress. Whatever you prefer as a reader there is very little that will bore you. As the books images play out in your minds eye while you look at them, they seem to come to a larger level of importance as quotes from some of Rock’s most famous and infamous characters are peppered about. Words from members of The Ramones, Blondie and The Clash can be found next to views by the band members themselves and others like David Bowie, Stiv Bators and Malcolm McLaren. I found it very cool to learn the views of those I consider to be influential and finding out just how important they felt the New York Dolls were to their own musical pursuits. These quotes were assembled by Legs McNeil and really succeed in making the book all the more fascinating.
The hardcover book itself is not only presented with flair on the inside but its cover is something special on its own and very “Glam” in its hot pink satin binding. Depending on your level of fussiness when it comes to books you will likely want to have very clean hands before touching this cover for fear of leaving dirty prints. The hot pink cover is accented greatly by the bold silver lipstick logo of the band and the books title. It stands out without a doubt. This is the kind of book that makes anyone who has shot band photos dream a little bit and bemuse their body of work. It makes that kind of person wonder if anyone they had taken photos of will ever become as influential to music history as these five guys had. Of course the times are very different with everyone carrying a camera around these days but you never know. There are 158 pages of inspiration with this tome to guide you. In 2010 The New York Dolls are again in action, having reunited in 2004 with new members Sami Yaffa and Steve Conte. Both Johansen and Sylvain continue to record new and live material and keep the bands name on your minds. Check them out and have a “Personality Crisis” with some legends and by all means pick up this book.
Note: Gruen’s work with The New York Dolls on video is also something to investigate and we reviewed that DVD on PiercingMetal.com a few years ago. Check out the scoop by clicking HERE.
1. Introduction by Gruen
2. Interview with David Johansen
3. Tons of Vintage Photos
4. Interview with Sylvain Sylvain
5. Afterword by Morrissey